Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Day IIX, Part I: If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium passing by my window

Lutetia?  Where's that?

If you've read your Asterix and Obelix comics you already know where I'm going today.

But I am getting ahead of myself again.  First it's time for my levee in Cologne.

Try as I may, I can't seem to be able to shake my getting-up time of 4 am.  Strange, that is not even anything like adhering to Vancouver time because that is 8 pm in Vancouver. 

Not my pic
I've finally found a hotel close to Cologne Central Station that I like. The tracks of the train station just outside my window proved much quieter throughout the night than the screams of the drunken crowds roaming the streets until dawn outside the windows of the other hotels I had tried.  In addition, if Nomen est Omen, then this is the hotel I should be staying at.  Cologne Cathedral claims to possess the bones of the Three Holy Kings (the guys who brought presents for Jesus in his crib).  Consequently the term "Drei Koenige" (three kings) pops up everywhere in Cologne.  I am staying at the Hotel Drei Koenige.  When I first walked in for check-in, I greeted the receptionist by saying "My name is Koenig, so you can change your sign outside to Hotel 4 Koenige. Strange as that comment may be, he must have liked it, judging by his 10 minute discourse about everything between Vladimir Putin, American gun violence, and Snickers bars.

Back to this morning: I spend an hour re-watching Sherlock on Netflix before breakfast is served at 6:30 am.

Breakfast is fantastic. Cologne always was the rebellious city in the West with closer ties to Paris than to Berlin.  The famous Eau de Cologne 4711 got its name from the numbering of houses that took place just before French troops entered the city (After the French Revolution but still before Napoleon).  And the French influence seems to show in the breakfast.  This is the first time I get both olives AND croissants ;-)

From my last trip I remember that French cigarettes are cheaper here in Germany than in France.   I stock up at the train station before boarding Thalys. Strange, to take this train from Cologne. I arrived with Thalys twice in Cologne in 2013, but I've never taken it to leave Cologne.

Not Thalys, just an ordinary ICE

Now that I am on this glorious train it is time for YOU to CLICK ON THIS LINK. (N.B.: The English translation of the lyrics is not for the faint of heart)

And here is another hint of where this train is taking me.

I get on the train at 8:35 and fall asleep as soon as the train has left Cologne Station, not waking up until we reach Aachen about 40 minutes later.  Here the German train personnel gets exchanged with Belgian train personnel.  I'm not sure that's an improvement.
I step out at the Brussels train station for a cigarette and see triste people hurrying along a triste train station. 
I finish my cigarette quickly and head to the club car, where I get 0.25 l of Chardonnay and a single ride ticket for the Paris Metro.  If you’ve ever seen the line-ups at the ticket-vending machines, you’ll appreciate the convenience of this.

Belgium offers the usual triste view outside the window.  
But at some point the fog begins to lift.  At the same time I see internet addresses on buildings outside that end in .fr ! I am in France.  I notice that the stupid grin has appeared on my face that always materializes when I enter this country ;-)
One thing that always surprises me about France is the great expanses of small villages surrounded by green fields.  I still have this view 15 minutes before we reach Paris.  We pass an airport 10 minutes before we hit Paris and the highrises only appear 5 minutes before arrival.  

Thank you again, Thalys !
My first stop at Gare du Nord is les toilettes (0.70 Euros) and then I head outside for a cigarette.  It's as if I had arrived in a different world.

It is the middle of December but temperatures border on spring-like. I head down to the Metro level and quickly find the right pedestrian tunnel to enter, since the Paris Metro system follows the same logical system as the one in Hong Kong.  A train is already waiting when I descend the last steps and I take the train to Place de la Bastille.  
Hong Kong also has prepared me for the labyrinthine exit system and I take the correct stairs.

I remember from a previous study of Google Maps that I have to take Rue de Saint Antoine (I use Dali’s Temptation of St. Anthony, one of the favourite paintings of my youth, as a memory aid) 
and I get to the hotel without taking a single wrong turn. 
Mimicking JFK and his exclamation “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a jelly filled doughnut) I can now truly say that “Ich bin ein PARISER” (I am a condom).

I’m staying here for 2 nights, so this is a good opportunity to launder all my used clothes ;-)

Then I step out into the streets of Paris ….

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